The Nature of Buying Stuff Cheap and Making It Look Cool


Our TV stand (shown above in all its glory) was a $35 credenza I bought off Craigslist. I loved TV stands with sliding front doors, but many with them were much too expensive. Even typing in “TV stand” into the search bar on Craigslist usually led me to a list of items I couldn’t afford or were so beat up I didn’t want them. Finally, I started expanding my search item terms to try to find pieces I could use as TV stands instead. I looked up desks, sofa tables, tables, night stands, end tables, side tables.

When I searched “desk,” I found an ad selling a desk and credenza for $75. I e-mailed the guy immediately asking if he’d sell the credenza separately, and he offered it for $45. I counter-offered with $35, and he said he’d take it if I’d come pick it up that day.

Once I got the location of where to pick it up, I was nervous because it was in a particularly bad part of town, and considering the fact that I live in Memphis, we can have some really bad parts of town. Since it was last minute and I couldn’t find anyone to go with me in the middle of a workday, I e-mailed the address and phone number of the guy to my husband, arranged to pick up my father’s SUV, and during a 2 hour break from work, went. As I pulled down the street, I realized the address I was given was for Orbit Tomato Co. and was immediately comforted.

I pulled into the loading dock, and an old gentleman wearing a back brace wheeled out my credenza, a hulking solid wood piece of furniture, and helped me load it into the back of my SUV. It miraculously fit with not an inch to spare.

After getting it home and waiting until my husband got off work so he could help me move it into the house, it had arrived. Then began what felt like the longest painting and distressing process EVER.

Things I needed to paint:

-drop cloths (BIG drop cloths because the piece was huge. I used a plastic ones, but I’d recommend fabric ones since you can reuse them)

-paint (my husband had recently painted our writing room Repose Gray from Sherwin-Williams, so I just used that leftover paint)

-primer (which I didn’t use, but I’d recommend)

-Kilz (only if you discover any mold on your piece or if you buy a piece that someone has smoked around a lot. Kilz will kill the smoke odor, which for us non-smokers can be a lifesaver)

6 1/2 inch paint roller

Once we got the piece into our second bedroom, we discovered it had mold on the bottom of it. So first I had to use Kilz to seal that off and make sure that no more would grow. This meant tipping it onto its side and painting the bottom and then letting it dry.

Once that was done, I started painting. I would recommend priming before painting. I did not prime, so the paint isn’t holding well to the wood, which means moving something across it can pick off some of the paint. It has been recommended that I use a furniture sealer on it, but I’ve been lazy and haven’t gotten around to it. The next time we make a huge move, I plan on doing it to make sure the paint doesn’t get too distressed during the move.

*If the piece has shelves or drawers, pull it all out. You want to paint the drawers and shelves separately. You also want to unscrew the hardware (drawer handles, etc.) when you’re painting the drawer faces. Don’t also forget to paint the sides and top of each drawer. I forgot to and it was super noticeable, so I had to go back and paint them.

*Prime the whole piece, including the drawers and shelves. Don’t worry if you can see through it. It’s primer, which just means it helps the paint adhere to the wood. It’s not supposed to be solid (this I did not know the first time I primed).

*Once you’re done priming, toss your rollers. They absorb so much paint that it’s not worth it to try to clean them off.

*Let it dry. If you touch it and nothing comes off on your fingertips, you’re good to paint. Primer dries super fast.

*Paint. Don’t worry if your first coat isn’t super solid; you’ll do a second one. I let it dry overnight.

*Give it a second coat. Let it dry again overnight or a couple of days. You want to make sure that the paint “cures.”

*Display it OR distress it.

I went the distressing route. I liked the antique-y look, and so I looked up DIY tutorials (like this one) for how to distress.

Things I needed to distress:

-two (or more, depending on how quickly you wear them out) sanding sponges (one in fine and one in medium) (found in the painting section of Home Depot or Lowe’s)

I read (somewhere) that having the pads in two different grains would help the distressing look more “authentic.” I don’t know if I necessarily believe that, but the sponges are wonderfully nice and easy to use.

Once I had the sponges, I got to work, and distressing is a lot like work. When you’re distressing, you’re really just running the sanding sponge over and over the spots where you want it distressed until the paint is removed and looks the way you want it to. It’s fun for a while because you’re just going to town on all of the edges and random spots where a piece of furniture might get normal wear, but then it also starts to get tiring because you’re more than likely (or in the case of me) using arm muscles you didn’t really know you had.

Where to distress:

-The edges. All of them. Randomly. You don’t want the wear to be even; you want it to be spotty.

-Places to “highlight,” as in arbitrary little spots you can scuff up all good and nice (see the spots on the top, the front of the drawers, and the sliding doors? Those are good examples.)

Once you’re done (and it may take a few passes for you to decide you’re *really* done), let it rest for a day. Then you can apply furniture wax (which I didn’t do, but I’d recommend) to help seal it.

Lastly, if you have a piece of furniture that you want to turn into a TV stand (like our credenza), you will need to drill a hole through the back to put in the cords. My husband did this part, but it didn’t look all that hard.

After all that, move it to where you want!

My experience painting and distressing furniture prior to this experience? Nada. My experience painting? Just a wall, once, seven years ago. My experience distressing? Never. I just had a vision and got lucky finding the piece cheap enough on Craigslist. It can really be that easy, but I think it also takes some courage and commitment. It’s not always easy doing this kind of stuff, but as I can attest, it’s worth it!

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